Nestlé Waters CEO Tim Brown was recently asked by a NASA scientist whether Nestlé would consider ceasing bottling operations in California considering the drought currently taking place.
The response by Nestlé CEO was a defiant, “absolutely not. In fact, if I could increase it, I would.”
“The fact is, if I stop bottling water tomorrow, people would buy another brand of bottled water,” Brown continued. “As the second largest bottler in the state, we’re filling a role many others aren’t filling. It’s driven by consumer demand, it’s driven by an on-the-go society that needs to hydrate. Frankly, we’re very happy [consumers] are doing it in a healthier way.”
Calls for Nestlé and other companies to move bottling operations elsewhere have increased as the drought has worsened. Last week, Starbucks announced that it would be moving bottling operations for its Ethos Water brand from California to Pennsylvania because of severe drought conditions. On Tuesday, Nestlé said that it is investing $7 million on technology and upgrades that would turn its Modesto milk factory into a “zero-water facility,” allowing them to extract waste water from the milk production process and use it in factory operations.
“We have these cooling towers [for milk] that use water,” says Brown. “Previously, that would have been fresh water that we would’ve drawn out of the municipal supply. Now, we can use our own water that had come previously from the milk. That water, normally, would’ve gone into the waste stream. Now it can be reused or recycled.”
Nestlé says the new tech will save almost 63 million gallons of water a year, but that wasn’t enough to convince Famiglietti, who is also a professor of Earth system science at the University of California at Irvine. He says bottled water requires 30 to 50 percent more water than simply turning on the tap.
“I think that it’s a bigger problem than people realize,” he says. “I think that we also have, with the greater water crisis here that we face in California, a human behavior problem. We need to change our behavior with respect to water and our understanding of how much water we actually have available to us, not only in California, but around the country.”
Famiglietti, who has written that California only has a year’s worth of water stored, says companies like Starbucks or Nestlé Waters may be using and bottling thousands of acre-feet of water. He says while this may not seem like much, it’s more than a drop in the bucket.
“An acre-foot [nearly 326,000 gallons] is enough water to supply an entire family for a year. So, in this time when we’re being asked to flush our toilets less and less, we have to ask the question: Is this really an environmentally, ethically correct thing to be doing right now?”
Still, Nestlé’s Brown argues that being water-conscious extends far beyond the bottled water industry, and that everyone in California should be looking for ways to conserve.
“Everybody in every facet of water in California has to find better design, better use, better ways to be more efficient. We have to look at design and how we touch water in a water scarce environment. There’s been 17 droughts in the last 48 years. We’re in this one, there will be more, and we all have to look at how water is going to move throughout the state.”